Sometimes I forget about the need of those in the community who have less than my family does so sometimes I forget about the Food Pantry at the Black Diamond Community Center, the Storehouse at Real Life Church or Maple Valley Food Bank and Emergency Services.
I visited the Maple Valley Food Bank Tuesday morning to help jog my memory about what that organization does to help those who are in need in the area. I wanted to get photos but I realized it had been at least a year since the last time I stopped in. Changes to the food bank have brought a grocery store style system. Clients can pick items off shelves like they would shopping at Safeway, on a small scale, rather than going through a line getting a handout. Years ago, when Executive Director Lila Henderson first started working at the food bank, they would bag up food and hand it out, so much has changed during the past two decades.
It is important that I do not forget about MVFB or other organizations who help out those in need in our communities. I grew up poor in Bellevue in the ‘80s and I can imagine growing up on free and reduced lunch in Maple Valley is equally challenging for children of the 21st century. Walking into the revamped food bank to see it set up like a store gave me childhood flashbacks to going through the food bank line with my mother, grabbing boxes and cans of nonperishable foods laid out on tables. I remember as a first grader feeling ashamed that we were in such a place. I am not sure where we went then but Hopelink in Bellevue now provides a food bank in my hometown. We also relied heavily on the Overlake Service League, which is now called Bellevue LifeSpring, a 102-year-old organization that provided many of the services Maple Valley Food Bank does now in terms of emergency assistance with paying bills, meals and gifts during the holidays, to name a few.
There is something about the new grocery store format, which Henderson told me went into use in mid-August, which feels like it wouldn’t be a place I would have been ashamed to go as a child. There is something to be said about helping those who are in need to feel like human beings and to treat them with dignity. I am proof that children in those situations can break that cycle, so imagine what happens if more youngsters find dignity in going to the food store at MVFB with their parents. I saw moms there Tuesday with toddlers bundled up against the cold, women like my mother and like myself now, doing the best they can to take care of their children.
Henderson said the feedback about the new format has been positive. Clients love it and feel more comfortable there. It was a risk, Henderson added, to switch to the format and they watched other food banks carefully. The board and the staff were not sure if it would be financially sustainable but it works.
It will continue to be viable thanks to a large outpouring of community support during the holiday season. This time of year more than half of the in-kind donations made to MVFB comes in and that allows Henderson, the staff as well as volunteers to continue offering all the services the nonprofit provides. Not only does the food bank have the standard nonperishable staples of peanut butter, canned goods, macaroni and cheese, boxed potatoes, and so on, but Henderson said they also are able to supplement the fresh produce grocery stores donate with purchases from Charlie’s Produce as well as fresh dairy products. This allows more variety of food and healthier choices available to balance out the mass produced, inexpensive preservative-laden junk food poor families often buy because it is what they can afford. This is the kind of food volunteers and staff can send families home with knowing they are helping to fill their bellies with healthy food as well as helping parents model good eating habits. As someone who grew up on free and reduced lunch, who ate a lot of Rice-A-Roni, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Corn Flakes, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches but made it to adulthood not understanding the importance of eating lots of fruit and veggies, this is a big deal. We did not eat out much and when we did, it was fast food usually, when there was a deal or a coupon. It took me entirely too long to figure out how to eat well. I don’t think that is the case of children who get products from the Maple Valley Food Bank.
In an email Henderson sent me with additional information after my visit, she pointed out that the grocery store style system follows the USDA’s MyPlate nutrition guide, which has increased the amount of food they provide to households by 60 percent.
“Monthly we give out over 80,000 pounds of food,” Henderson wrote. “Each day our doors open we see between 80 and 100 households. Thirty-three percent of our customers come from Covington. We distributed 680 Thanksgiving meals last month.”
More than 1,000 children are expected to receive gifts from the Christmas Store, Henderson added.
And while there is considerable support during the holidays for MVFB, it is important not to forget it is there, to not forget the need. I know I do. My life has gotten comfortable. I can buy whatever I want. I have the choice of not only avoiding fast food and processed, pre-packaged food primarily in favor of fresh meat, dairy and produce, but I often go the route of non-GMO organic products. It is too easy to rise above poverty and forget where you came from but I will try not to going forward. I hope you also do not forget to support the nonprofits in our communities which fill the bellies of those in need and not just now. Summer is a tough time for families with children on free and reduced lunch. They are not getting meals because they are not in school. Donate all year round, organize food drives at work or with your children’s scouting troops or youth sports programs.
I know the communities we cover believe in supporting nonprofits, especially those such as MVFB that help their neighbors. Still, a gentle reminder cannot hurt, right?
Do not forget the need. Henderson said that though the spike in demand for services after the recession leveled off, it did not decrease and it is possible it could increase again if cuts are made to federal programs. Do not forget those in our community who we may not see their need because being poor in Maple Valley, a city with a median household income around $90,000 a year, comes with a different set of challenges. Do not forget to support the food bank throughout the year.
For more information about MVFB log on to www.maplevalleyfoodbank.org.